Buttermilk Cake with Riesling-Poached Pears and Vanilla Crème Fraîche
March 24, 2011, 3:37 pm
Filed under: Desserts, Fruit | Tags: , , , , ,

Philadelphia is a very underrated city.  This assumption is not based solely on my opinion, but also on the opinion of Time & Leisure Magazine.  Time & Leisure named Philadelphia one of the 25 most underrated cities in the world.  I realize that I share many of these highly non-scientific polls in my blog, but I totally agree with this one.  As the fifth largest city in the U.S. we have so much to offer.  We have a big city atmosphere without that big city overwhelming feel, plenty of amazing restaurants (including Vetri, which is a finalist for the James Beard Award for best restaurant in the nation), plenty of history, art, music and theater, the largest municipal park in the country in Fairmount Park, fantastic sports teams, some say the greatest density of places of higher education than anywhere else and plenty of ways to stay active and healthy outdoors such as running, biking or rowing along the 215 miles of trails or 34 miles of waterway.  Even though Philadelphia is great now, it’s only going to get better.  Philadelphia’s mayor has a green initiative to increase the amount of green throughout the city thereby attempting to make Philadelphia the greenest city in the country, the addition of more running and walking trails and to turn an old pier to a new park along the Delaware River and Ben Franklin Bridge.  Furthermore, as you walk around the outskirts of Center City it is clearly evident that the lesser appealing neighborhoods and rowhomes are improving. So truly, to many of those who are not aware of what Philadelphia has to offer, our city may seem ugly and boring, but really it’s one of the best places to live in the East.

Buttermilk Cake with Riesling-Poached Pears and Vanilla Crème Fraîche (from Food & Wine Magazine)

This post is from Food & Wine Magazine which you may remember is a result of my cousin’s magazine drive.  I chose this recipe for this post because of how the author describes the pears: “We get these crazy organic pears that are ugly as sin.  Peeling them, though, reveals a fruit so beautiful and juicy…”  However corny this may be, I relate this description to the impression that many people outside Philadelphia have of our city and it’s reality which is very briefly highlighted in Time & Leisure Magazine.

I would recommend a couple of things: make everthing a day ahead of your intended serving date.  It doesn’t take long to make, but it is fairly labor-intensive.  Store the pears and crème fraîche in the refrigerator.  However, allow the pears to return to room temperature before serving.  Lastly, don’t make your own crème fraîche.  It involves leaving cream, etc at room temperature for over a day.  I attempted it but feared that I was going to get my guests sick so I ended up buying some from Whole Foods and then adding the confectioners sugar and vanilla bean.


February 21, 2011, 4:54 pm
Filed under: Chocolate, Desserts | Tags: , ,

I’m fairly confident to state that everyone wants to be the best at something.  I could not imagine wanting to settle for second best or even average.  I’m not so confident as to why some seek that stardom.  For some, it’s solely financial while for others it’s the pure enjoyment in the subject matter and for others its the enjoyment of the competitive spirit of the pursuit of being the best.  Regardless of the motivation, it’s really important.  Our inherent desire to be the best is why scientific discoveries are made, lives are saved, excellent works of literature, theater and film are created, important laws are written and enacted, and great restaurants and food is made.  Without this desire and it’s subsequent product, we would most likely live in futility and eventually waste away into nonexistence.  This seems a bit harsh, but must hold some truth.  Philadelphia was recently recognized for a few of its culinary-related “bests,” including receiving numerous James Beard Award nominations in multiple categories, having one of the best public markets in the nation and even receiving recognition in the New York Times for it’s great dining scene.

This post shares what my neighbor, Ashley Cohen, calls the “best” brownies she has ever tasted.  Specifically, she said they were “astoundingly,  dangerously good.”  She enjoyed them so much she bugged me for a couple more and even considered returning from a dinner so that she could pick them up (she was afraid someone else would eat them if she did not do so).

Grasshoppers (Recipe from Baked Explorations)

I made these grasshoppers as a birthday treat for friend and fellow research coordinator, Laurie Doghramji, who works at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (which according to some is one of the “best” hospitals in the country…insert eye roll here).

The grasshoppers present with a very professional final look even after contributing an effort that errs on the side of Betty Crocker boxed brownies.  I realize I sound like a broken record, but this is a simple recipe.  To simplify the directions: 1. make brownie layer 2. make mint layer 3. make chocolate ganache layer.  In the future I might increase the mint layer by 50% and I will always cut the brownies when they are chilled.  Doing so avoids adding brownie crumbs to the mint layer which maintains that clean, professional look.

Dulce de Leche Crepes
February 1, 2011, 7:29 pm
Filed under: Desserts, Pastry, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

Friday marked the end of Restaurant Week in Philadelphia.  Restaurant Week is a culinary-focused event in which over 50 restaurants in the city offers special two or three course prix-fixe menus for prices of $20 for lunch and $35 for dinner.  What is odd about Restaurant Week is that it is not a week-long event, but is two weeks – twice a year.  The appeal of this event tends to slightly lose it’s luster when offered so frequently.  Although the name “Restaurant Week” is a bit of a misnomer, the popularity of the restaurants that compose this event is not.  The food is awesome everywhere.  Every course of every meal I have had at a Restaurant Week restaurant has been outstanding.  This time I went to Fork, which offers American bistro cuisine in a relaxed restaurant atmosphere.  Everything on their Restaurant Week menu sounded incredible and I ended up selecting  the creamy cauliflower soup, braised short ribs with creamy polenta and braised leeks and the vanilla creme brulee.

You would assume that I would try to create a Fork-related post, but instead I focused on oddities or things that just don’t seem to make sense in regards to food.  The name “Restaurant Week” definitely fits that description since it’s offered four weeks out the year.  Another oddity that was recently brought to my attention by friend Alex Gutweiler was this recipe for English peas by Paula Dean.  It only has two ingredients, peas and butter!  I recommend reading the comments when you have the time as they are hilarious.  My last food oddity, and subsequent attempted segue into my post, is my friend Cole Griswold’s alcohol-induced desire to make crepes after a night out in college.  It was bizarre at the time and slightly bewildering to this day.  Why crepes? Why at 2AM?  Well, based the combination of Cole’s desire for a French/Latin American pastry and the other previously mentioned oddities  I decided to make Dulce de Leche Crepes for you.

Dulce de Leche Crepes (from Alma de Cuba)

Since I had been to Alma de Cuba during a past Restaurant Week I didn’t want to go there again, but I did want to highlight something that is offered there and also has some personal twist on my very loose theme of oddites in food. The dessert I decided to make, Dulce de Leche Crepes,  is described on the Alma de Cuba menu in the following way:

“Vanilla crepes filled with dulce de leche and served with truffled streusel, bitter chocolate glaze and smoked vanilla ice cream.”

Obviously there was not a recipe to accompany the menu descriptions, but it was not very difficult to tease out the required ingredients and reproduce this dessert.  I used this recipe for the vanilla crepes, this recipe for the dulce de leche and this recipe for the streusel.  Here are my recipe notes/suggestions: For the crepes, use 1 3/4 cups milk, 3 whole eggs, 1.5 tablespoons vanilla, 4 tablespoons unsalted butter and 3 tablespoons confectioners sugar instead of the listed amount for each of these ingredients.  Also, sift the flour and combine all of the dry ingredients and, while stirring, gradually add it to the wet ingredients to avoid clumping.  For the dulce de leche, patience and time is a must.  It takes a while to make (2-3 hours), but it is worth it.  Also, occasionally remove the foam that accumulates on top.  For the streusel, I added a teaspoon of both cinnamon and nutmeg because  I wanted to streusel to be very aromatic.

The picture below represents the delicious mess that might be left after finishing this dessert!

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things
January 7, 2011, 3:49 pm
Filed under: Appetizer, Desserts, Dinner | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

2010 was a great year.  I accomplished a few of my goals, one being creating this blog, and was able to cook a lot more than I have in the past.  Overall, living in Philadelphia is awesome.  There is plenty to do, see, eat and drink.  God forbid you actually want to get out of the city for a bit, New York City and Washington, D.C. is just a 2+ hour Megabus/Boltbus ride away.  Like I always mention, Philly has awesome restaurants and food stores and markets.  In reflection of my 2010 eating experiences I thought I would make a few of my favorite things: Royal Palm Dates from Alma de Cuba, Crab Cakes from DiBruno Bros and Salted Caramel Budino from Barbuzzo.  They do not necessarily reflect my favorite restaurants in the city, but each represents  something I highly recommend if you happen to stumble upon them.

As for 2011, I plan to share more of the same as well as some of my food experiences outside of the kitchen as well as the people I share them with.   I will try my best to stay consistent with the blog postings (hopefully each Sunday).  Furthermore, I have big things planned for my blog which I hope to show you all in a couple months.  Happy 2011!

Royal Palm Dates (adapted from Alma de Cuba)

There was no actual recipe to follow for these, so I had to use my memory and a few pictures from the internet to create them.  From my internet search, it looks like these are a fairly common appetizer, although it didn’t look like too many used blue cheese and endive leaves as well.  The almond skins must be removed and can be easily done by blanching in boiling water.  Stuff 1-2 almonds in each pitted date, wrap in 1/3 slice of bacon, and bake in oven for 12-15 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  In  a bowl, mix sliced almonds with thinly sliced red onion and blue cheese.  Place a heap of this mixture on each endive leaf, add the bacon-wrapped date, and top with a little melted blue cheese.  Yum!

Crab Cakes with Spicy Aioli Sauce (Adapted from DiBruno Bros)

DiBruno Brothers has some pretty rad pre-made food selections (in addition to their other store selections) for those days you really have no desire to cook.  Although its hard to go wrong, I recommend the crab cakes with aioli sauce.  They are unbelievable!  I made these for my parents on new year’s eve and my dad said they were as good as any he has ever had (That’s a compliment, right?).  As for the spicy aioli sauce, it was more or less my own recipe: 1 pint mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper, 1 small jar roasted red peppers (blended), and hot sauce, salt, pepper to taste.

Salted Caramel Budino (Recipe from Barbuzzo)

Welcome to the best dessert in the city.  This isn’t merely my opinion, but apparently the opinion of others.  Up to this point, if there was one thing you had to get/make in Philly/my blog, it would be this dessert.  It’s that unreal.  It’s easy to make and just as easy to order.

Chocolate Pomegranate Torte
December 26, 2010, 4:43 pm
Filed under: Cakes, Chocolate, Desserts | Tags: , , , , ,

Did you know that according to Greek mythology the seasons of the year are partly attributed to the goddess of the underworld, Persephone, and eating pomegranate seeds?  According to mythology, Hades kidnapped Persephone and forced her to live in the underworld and be his wife.  Persephone’s mother, Demeter (goddess of the harvest), went into mourning and caused all vegetation to stop growing.  Zeus, not wanting the earth to die, ordered Persephone’s return.  However, it was law that if anyone consumed food or drink in the underworld they were doomed to spend eternity there.  Because Persephone had no food, Hades tricked her into eating six pomegranate seeds and thus she was condemned to spending six months in the underworld every year.  During these six months, Demeter mourns and does not give fertility to the earth.  Thus, the reason why we have the fall and winter seasons.

In Philadelphia, Demeter must have really wanted us to suffer for Persephone’s mistake.  During the winter months, daylight is precious and the days are full of frigid temperatures and brutal winds sweeping between the tall buildings.  Depending upon who you ask, we are either blessed or cursed with plenty of snow as well.  Luckily, with the cold weather comes plenty of great things – holiday parties, hot chocolate, eating at one of the many fantastic Philly restaurants, running on the near-deserted Scuylkill River trail with my dog, skiing, movies, reading, and eating a variety of sweets. Combining the latter with a fruit that is in season this time of year, the pomegranate, can make some incredible desserts.  One such dessert, a chocolate pomegranate torte, is the focus of the post.

Chocolate Pomegranate Torte (From Fine Cooking)

This torte takes quite a bit of time to make and thus I suggest spreading its preparation out over a couple of days.  On the first day, I made the cake and jelly and then spread the jelly over the cake to allow the jelly to set.  According to the website where this recipe originates, it says this is the thing to do anyways as the cake has the best texture and flavor when allowed to set for a day or two.  After making this torte four times over the past few years I have one improvement to the recipe, double the jelly. When the torte is made exactly as directed, it is difficult to pick up the flavors of the pomegranate jelly over the chocolate cake and glaze.  I found the jelly much more prominent and flavorful when it’s recipe is doubled (as it should be), and overall, the torte much more extravagant.

After allowing the cake to set for a day or so, it’s time to glaze the cake and pomegranate gel.  The most important aspect of this step is to not try to make it perfect.  The more you touch it the rougher the glaze will look.  Minimal movements will give it a professional and shiny finish.  To glaze the cake, pour it over the middle of the cake and spread it to the edges, allowing it to fall over the edges.  Using a spatula, spread it evenly and quickly to give the edges a smooth, clean appearance.  Allow it to set over several hours and then serve.

December 21, 2010, 7:42 pm
Filed under: Desserts | Tags: , , , , ,

I know that the current weather conditions don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with ice cream, but Philadelphia has some great choices, some of which are not even ice cream.  Places such as Scoop DeVille serve your standard ice cream and toppings while places like Rita’s serve custard and Philadelphia’s famous “water ice.”  Water ice is more than a “slushy” and is something that you have to try yourself to understand. Additionally, there is Yogorino, a natural yogurt shop (not frozen yogurt) where one can choose from toppings such as coconut flakes, kiwi, chocolate shavings and sauces such as pistachio, frutti di bosco and chocolate hazelnut.  Although quite expensive, it is also one of the most refreshing choices in the city.  Lastly, Capogiro Gelato Artisans.  As it’s name describes, Capogiro is a gourmet gelato shop offering a wide spectrum of flavor options made from  various sources (fruits, wines, liquors, milks, flowers, herbs, sugars and spices) which dares you to make interesting combinations such as cilantro and lime, prune armagnac, or mexican chocolate, bitter almonds and ancho chiles!  It’s absolutely hands down the best place to go for an ice cream-type dessert.

The winter months typically provide Philly with frigid weather.  Although the cold weather replaces the hot summer and crisp fall weather, our desire for cool sweets  such as gelato remains a constant year round.  Perhaps affogato (or affogato al cafe, meaning “drowned in coffee”), an Italian espresso-based beverage or dessert, is the perfect winter-time “ice cream.”  It has an infinite number of variations including the use of amaretto or liqueurs amongst the infinite gelato flavors available.  It’s satisfying flavors both warm and comfort the body. On one such dark and cold night, which subsequently coincided with the winter solstice, my craving for sweets strengthened and I decided to make this simple, yet delicious, Italian dessert.


The motivation to make this dessert came from one of the blogs on my blogroll, but to be honest, I don’t remember which one specifically.  Luckily, the recipe is self-explanatory and widely available: 1. Add gelato. 2. Add one shot espresso.  3. Top with homemade whipped cream (8oz heavy cream whipped to stiff peaks, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 teaspoon confectioners sugar) and miniature chocolate chips (optional). 4. Enjoy!

Like I mentioned earlier, Capogiro is the place to go for gelato.  I decided on two different flavor selections for my affogato, Bourbon Butterscotch and Fior Di Latte (Sweet Amish Milk, which is the base for all of their gelato flavors).  The flavors that both later provided to the affogato was spectacular, especially the Bourbon Butterscotch which offered rich butterscotch flavors (with a hint of bourbon) that put this dessert in a league of its own.

Oreo “Truffles”
December 20, 2010, 8:47 pm
Filed under: Chocolate, Desserts | Tags: , , ,

The holidays are a busy time of the year (hence the delay between posts).  I’ve been lucky enough to go to a couple of Christmas parties recently.  I was invited to a party that was hosted at Lucky Strikes, a place where bowling meets lounge meets cool atmosphere.  The party offered fun people, unlimited bowling, cocktails, beer, wine as well as food.  It was an incredibly fun night.  Lucky Strikes in Philadelphia is one of 18 locations nationwide, originating in Hollywood where it once staged the movie “The Big Lebowski.”  Prior to  Lucky Strikes, a group of friends were getting together for drinks and appetizers and I was asked to bring something to share.  Since the days are quickly filled with work and other activities I needed something easy and fast to make.  I decided on Oreo truffles.  Aesthetically, they look outstanding relative to the time it take to make them.  I recommend making these the next time you’re short on time.

Oreo Truffles

This recipe has three ingredients – 1 lb Oreo’s (I used double stuffed Oreo’s), 8 oz cream cheese, and 1.5 lbs chocolate.  Additionally, I used chocolate sprinkles and ground almonds to provide a little variety.  This recipe makes about 95 truffles.

Grind the Oreo’s in a blender or food processor until it becomes a fine powder.  In a mixer, blend the cream cheese and Oreo powder until no cream cheese can be seen, about 2-3 minutes.  Roll into small or large balls and place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet (Note: I made 95 small balls since the final product is quite rich and I think a larger truffle would be delicious although slightly overwhelming).  Let chill for 45 minutes or even overnight.  After melting chocolate in a double-boiler, use a toothpick to dip each ball into the chocolate.  Be sure to allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the melted chocolate to ensure the truffles have a more neat look.  Place on a second cookie sheet to set.  Once the chocolate has set, decorate each truffle with white or dark chocolate, sprinkles or almonds.  I found using a baggie with a cut corner produced more aesthetically pleasing results than any pastry tip could offer.